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Showing posts with label big's backyard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big's backyard. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2023

2023 Capital Backyard Ultra - Father of Four, Ready for More... Ultrarunning

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra

When my wife and I found out we were having another child to join our already family of five, I can honestly say I was shocked. I also selfishly thought of how it would affect my training and my running goals. I’d say I panicked a bit fearing that my ultrarunning days were more or less over or would at least have to be put on hold for a few years. Thankfully my race at Capital Backyard Ultra relieved any still persisting panic and alleviated my fears. After incorporating training around the birth of my fourth son and caring for his older brothers with ages ranging from 2 to 11, I put that training to the test and managed to come home to my two month old baby and my amazing wife having exceeded all of my expectations of what I was capable of and having achieved all of the race goals I set for myself. Long story short, this proved to me I was still capable of running backyard ultras competitively even with my family life becoming busier and more hectic than it has been the last few years.

 beast coast trail running scott snell

So what does training for a backyard race look like for a busy father of four that works full time? The key ingredients for me are consistency, volume, and flexibility.
 

Consistency: Getting in the miles day after day. Yes, I do take rest days, but usually it's one day a week. Some days are longer, some shorter, but I don’t do a huge number of “long runs”. Typically, my daily runs usually range between 6-13 miles. Personally, I feel like I get better fitness training by running three consecutive days of 13 mile runs rather than running 39 miles in a single run and taking a couple rest days before and after it.

Volume: Increasing volume of easy paced runs has been my primary goal of training since becoming focused on the backyard format. I aim to have a consistent build of volume leading up to a big race. I do this by setting up a 3-4 month training cycle focused on gradually increasing volume. I simply run consistently, then look at the daily average of miles per day for the baseline month. I then aim for an increase in the daily average mileage every month until the month of the race. I used this method for the first time last year as I trained for Capital Backyard Ultra. I ran a PR of over 100 miles and was the last one standing at the race last year, so that pretty much sold me on this method.

Flexibility: Life is busy and responsibilities get in the way of training. When that happens being rigid is not going to benefit a training plan. Adapting and finding a way to incorporate the desired mileage around other responsibilities has become my standard method of operation. Some days that means I run even slower than normal miles pushing my sleeping two year old (that most likely has a lollipop that has fallen out of his mouth stuck to him somewhere) in a jogging stroller. Would I have rather run my normal trail route? Yes, but road miles with a stroller are better than no miles. On days that I have not had an opportunity to run until 9 pm or so when the kids are asleep for the night, I view it as an opportunity to train my mental fortitude. Yes, I’m tired and I would like to go to bed for the night, but I ask myself “Are you too tired to run one more yard?” And the answer is always a simple “No.” So I push myself out the door to run and remind myself that I am building mental toughness for that time during a backyard when I feel so tired that I don’t think I can do one more yard. I remind myself that this is how you get one more yard, by choosing to start it, as much as you may not feel like it.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
The view from my aid station.

I want to move on to focus specifically on my race experience this year at Capital Backyard Ultra, but before doing so let me give a brief description of the “backayard” race format for anyone reading who may not be familiar. Basically, it is a race of attrition without a set distance. The race continues until only one runner remains. Hence, these races are also referred to as “last person standing” races. So how are runners eliminated? By not completing a 4.167 mile lap every hour on the hour. Every hour all runners start a lap and must finish before the end of the hour. If they finish early, they must wait until the start of the next hour to start their next lap. With that caveat, this race prevents any runner from building a lead, more or less taking away the advantage of speedy runners. The cycle of on the hour lap starts continues indefinitely until all but one runner has opted to not continue running or has timed out. The last runner remaining must run one complete lap more than all other runners within the hour time limit before being named the winner. This leaves the possibility that there could be no winner (which has happened) if several runners go out for a lap and they all time out.
 

Day 1: After experiencing several multi day backyards, day one becomes a bit of an obligatory process. And honestly, with the depth of the field at Capital this year, I was viewing the first 48 hours as an obligatory process. It’s more or less a thinning of the herd, separating those there that have the capability and drive to be the last one standing from the rest of the group. Although it takes 24-48 hours for this process to play out with the caliber of backyard runners assembled for this race, that doesn’t mean it has to be a boring process. I spent most of the first day meeting new people and catching up with folks I had run with before. A good number of the runners I already knew were my teammates that I ran with on Team USA last year at Big’s: Kevin McCabe, Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Justin Wright and Levi Yoder.

It had been a few months, but we were running together again, although this time not as a team but individuals. We all had our own reasons for being there and running the race. I believe Keith and I had pretty similar motivations. One motivator Keith had that I didn’t is that he currently has the most miles accumulated at Capital. As long as he runs the race and puts in a solid performance, he will likely be able to hold on to that record. Neither of us really needed to run this race. We both were pretty safe on the Big’s at large list with a performance of 62 yards. So it was something else that drove us to run this race. I believe our common motivations were first, just to run with our teammates again, and second, to assist them in earning a spot at Big’s this year. You can only go as far as your assist takes you in the backyard and to secure a spot on the at large list to Big’s this year will likely take a performance of over 60 yards which is no short order. Justin and Levi were both seeking performances to break onto the at large list as their best performances thus far for the qualifying period fell short. Kevin and Jennifer were both already on the at large list with performances of 57 and 60 yards respectively. While that puts them both on the at large list, it doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room and leaves the opportunity for a few big backyard performances to knock them off the list. I believe both of them were seeking to at least better their standing on the list.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
My aid area for the duration of the race. 

I arrived at the race uncrewed (again) and spent the first day getting into a routine. I got my aid area set up and tweaked a few things throughout the day to make it flow a bit easier. Being uncrewed at Capital is pretty manageable for the first 24-48 hours if you’re a self sufficient runner. After that, things can start to get a little hectic or your brain just can’t function as smoothly due to the sleep deprivation and exhaustion. So, thankfully, I had a plan this year. A runner I had met at previous races and that volunteered at my last 24 hour race was running Capital. This runner is 72 year young Marty Fox. I chatted with him before the race and he agreed to crew for me when his race was finished and he had a chance to rest. The timing would be nearly perfect for him to be ready and rested to help me when I would start needing help.

Night 1: The first night was smooth and uneventful, just as you want it to be for a multiday backyard. I didn’t feel too tired that first night and didn’t use much caffeine either. The pace continued to feel easy to come in with 9-10 minutes between yards. I laid down a few times the first night to rest my eyes, but I don’t think I got any real sleep. The biggest challenge for me that first night was the temperature. It felt pretty chilly to me overnight and between each yard I was bundling up in my sleeping bag which made the start of every yard feel even colder.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Day 2: The sun rose again and the day warmed, rejuvenating me and most of the other runners as we finished our night laps on the paved path and returned to the trail for another set of 14 day yards. I don’t think we had lost many runners at this point. I know we lost my soon to be crew rock star, Marty, as he set a new PR for himself with 20 yards!

With the lack of sleep and just being physically worn down from running over 100 miles, day two just begins to feel like a grind. But all you can do is bear it and soldier on, hoping you ran that first 100 miles smart enough to allow you to run the second 100 miles relatively comfortably. That’s the name of the game in the backyard, minimizing damage. There will be cumulative damage, for everyone. It’s the ones who handle it well and minimize it as much as possible that will be able to continue to compete for the ultimate prize.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell squat party capital backyard ultra
A few impromptu squat parties occurred throughout the race in the starting corral. 

The biggest disappointment for me on day 2 started between loops when I saw from my chair Kevin shake Keith’s hand and then turn to look at me and start heading in my direction. I already knew what was happening, Kevin was calling it quits. He shook my hand and confirmed my suspicions. His head wasn’t in it this time and he was walking away. Keith and I did our best to talk him into going back out. My line was “it can all turn around in one yard.” I feel like we almost had him convinced to go back out with us, but it seemed his drive was gone and there wasn’t any fight left for him in this race. Once it became pretty apparent to me that he was done, I gave him a hug and wished him the best as we prepped to head out for another yard. The backyard is rigid and makes no exceptions. Either you’re in or you’re out. And once you’re out the race plows on without you. Those continuing to run are left to speculate about what caused the other runners to end their days. I would think a lot about Kevin for the next few days, wishing that I had something better to say to reignite a fire for him to continue.

Night 2: We lost a second member of Team USA shortly after the switch back to the paved course. Justin disappeared from the field of runners suddenly. A lot of questions were asked, but no clear, definitive answers came back from anyone back at camp. Obviously something went wrong for him, and it apparently happened suddenly as he seemed in good shape and good spirits going into the switch of courses.

Having run through a second night at two backyards previously, the second night didn’t have me worried. I knew what to expect and had established tools and methods to address the issues that I knew I would face eventually. Drowsiness is usually the biggest issue for me during the second night; short naps, caffeine consumption, and comradery are pretty much the extent of the tools I use to battle that issue. I only had one pretty bad scare due to drowsiness. I was alone on the path taking a little walk break and resting my eyes when I felt a change in the surface under my feet. It had gone from paved to soft, cushiony grass. Obviously I wasn’t walking a straight line and I had veered off the path. I opened my eyes just in time to see I was about to walk into a drainage ditch where a metal culvert came out from under a driveway. It was a pretty good drop and pretty steep. Another step or two and I may have taken a fall into the ditch. I didn’t have much time to react when I realized what was about to happen so I made a little hop over the drainage ditch to the other side towards the road. I shook my head to try to expel the sleepiness then looked at the ditch and thought about how bad that could have been. I got back on the path feeling really proud of my fast athletic reaction to avoid a catastrophe and kept my eyes open for the rest of the lap. When I completed that yard, the first thing I did back at my aid station was down a half bottle of a Stacker 2 energy drink.

We got a bit of rain during the second night, but thankfully I invested in a running rain jacket prior to this race after my lack of preparation left me cold and shivering at the 24 hour Adventure Trail Challenge just a little over a month ago. As a side note, it was Marty, my crew volunteer, who saved me at that race. He was volunteering at the aid station and when he saw me come in soaked and shivering he grabbed his Patagonia Houdini rain jacket for me to wear. And here he was again at my next race, crewing for me and keeping me going through that second night after running his own PR. As a bonus, I also got two additional crew members through Marty. His son, Derek, was running the race crewed by his buddy Jaron. Once Derek called it a day for his race, they both jumped in to help Marty crew me. I felt like I had a full on pit crew attending to all my needs by the time I rolled into day three.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
The Fab Four on Day 3! Team USA!

Day 3: After 200 miles, the field really started dwindling. At this point, I’d say the odds are pretty good that the only runners left are the ones who are all in to be the last one standing. When you’ve come this far, there’s no reason to quit unless there’s no one left to push you farther or something goes bad for you and you can’t continue. The third day the sleep deprivation really started messing with my head. I had managed a few short naps during the second night, but not like the solid 9-10 minute nap I got last year at Capital. The brain was super foggy which I tried to treat with caffeine, but there’s only so much that can do. I started experiencing a feeling of awake day dreaming that I’ve had on the third day of past backyards. The symptom that really tips me off to know it’s happening is when I’m chatting with other runners and all of a sudden I’m not sure if I actually said something or just thought I did. Or I’ll have an entire conversation in my head with someone running by me and then be uncertain if we actually had the conversation or I was just imagining it. It makes me question reality a bit when it’s happening, but I’m pretty certain it is mainly just a side effect due to lack of sleep.

As runners dropped off, one by one, the day and the race unrelentingly carried on without them. Eventually it was down to four of us, all former teammates from Team USA at Big’s last year: Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Levi Yoder, and I. We weren’t a team for this race, but there’s no question that some of those team bonds remained. We chatted, we joked, we helped each other out, we even talked about goals for the race. That eventually led to us all agreeing that 72 was a good goal to shoot for together. I pushed a bit further and raised the question of what about when we hit 72 (I was confident I could at that point). Do we continue to work together or is it straight back to the backyard format, every runner for him/herself? It was agreed that in the spirit of the backyard format that we should continue on until only one is left. There would be no finish line or celebration for achieving the benchmark of 300 miles. It would just be one yard closer to a DNF for all but one runner.

The idea of hitting 300 miles was not a shock to me at all during our talk on that third day of running. I had posted a graph I made of my “great expectations” for this race. That graph included the benchmarks of 100 miles, 200 miles, course record (62 yards), personal record (63 yards), American record (86 yards), and World record (102 yards). Having done 258 miles at Big’s last year while still recovering from a chest cough and cold, I was sure I could do 300 on the easier course at Capital while healthy. So I set some big goals to shoot for, to keep me pushing for as long as other runners were willing to go with me. While those big goals were real for me, I wasn’t confident the opportunity to chase them would present itself at this race. You can only go as far as your assist will push you at a backyard. What I was confident of being pushed to was to run through a third night, something I had never achieved before and the mental hurdle that ultimately ended my race at Big’s last year. Last year at Capital a major goal for me was to run through a second night for the first time ever to prepare for having to do it at Big’s last October. This year, I was again using Capital to prepare for Big’s, but this time the test was making it through that third night.


Night 3: The third night began with three of us; Keith had timed out on his 58th yard towards the end of the day to finish with a total of 237.5 miles. After a couple night laps, Levi’s stomach would turn on him. He headed out on his 64th yard, but the lack of a stomach that can digest and process fuel would take its toll on this yard. He would turn back to finish his day with a PR of 63 yards or 262.5 miles, a performance that is pretty certain to earn him his spot at Big’s this October. I was a little ahead of Levi when he stopped running on his last yard. I was pretty focused on getting myself mentally prepared for another night of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. I was battling my own mental monsters as I had just exceeded my backyard PR and not particularly looking forward to another sleepless night of running. It would have been easy to check out with a new PR and a pretty much guaranteed spot at Big’s at that point in the race. With everything going on in my own head, I didn’t do much to push Levi on. I tried to give a little encouragement by telling him that his stomach could come back, he’s just gotta make it through this yard, but honestly I don’t think I could have done or said anything to save his race at that point. He had the desire and the fight to carry on; he just needed a functioning stomach, not a pep talk.

beast coast trail running scott snell, Levi Yoder,  and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder at finish of capital Backyard 2023
Jennifer Russo, Levi Yoder, and Scott Snell -
The last three standing at Capital Backyard Ultra 2023
  
So Jennifer and I were the last two standing again, just like last year. Only this year we were both in better shape to push on through the third night. We had had pretty ideal running weather for the first three days with decent cloud cover and highs in the 70s. It was nothing like last year with brutal heat and full sun outside the woods. We both pretty much ran on our own all night. My pace was just slightly faster and I would come in just a few minutes before Jennifer on every yard like clockwork. I only attempted to pick up the pace for a little extra sleep time for one yard on that night. It worked and I felt like I got good sleep, but I also stiffened up a bit during those extra few minutes of rest, so much so that I decided it seemed risky to do that again. So I just continued to come in with my comfortable 8-9 minutes and fell asleep quickly getting 4-5 minute naps every lap. I was impressed with how well I was sleeping in those short bursts through the night.

Even with the “quality” sleep I was getting, the lack of sleep was obviously affecting my brain function. I didn’t have any full, vivid hallucinations, but shadows and objects in the dark definitely began to resemble other random things. The shadowy shrubs were most often some type of animal. I saw lots of dogs and horses, sometimes full bodies, other times it would just be a giant dog face in the flora. I swear, one shrub along the path took on the shape of an elephant man until I was within a few feet of it when I was finally able to distinguish that it was in fact a bush. They had recently mowed the edges of the path which left a lot of tall grass clippings scattered on the path. Those clippings had dried and yellowed after a few days in the sun and took on the appearance of golden hay. Hay is for horses, at least that’s what my discombobulated brain reasoned. So I kept seeing horse faces in those strewn, dried grass clippings along the path. The fire hydrants along the path were painted silver which kept reminding me of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Before I knew it, every fire hydrant I approached appeared to be the Tin Man wearing a fire fighter’s helmet. The strangest visual miscue I had was just the bare paved path itself. On a few occasions as I just stared down at the path it seemed to take on a CGI rendered quality. It would smooth out and look slatey in a way, like it was a creation of some low quality computer animation using 3D rendered polygons. Thankfully, those didn’t last too long and things went back to the current normal pretty quickly.

Day 4: Jennifer and I ran our last night loop together as the sun came up. We didn’t plan it or talk about it. Our paces just happened to match up, maybe mine slowed a bit and her’s increased a bit, but we ran that yard pretty much side by side. I think we both knew at that point, having survived the night, that we were going to make it to 300 which was now only two day yards away. I believe that also meant that we both knew this was going to turn into a battle of wills as the day carried on past the 300 mile mark. At least that’s where my mind was headed.

We both completed yard 72 with little celebration. For a goal that we both worked so long and hard to achieve, the celebration was overshadowed, at least for me, by the knowledge of the battle that would ensue. It wouldn’t end with high fives and cheers of our victory. It would continue until one of us failed. A few fist bumps and a pat on the back from Jennifer as we headed out on yard 73 and the celebration was over. During that yard I began questioning how much longer this would go. I was growing tired both mentally and physically. I wasn’t struggling to complete the laps with 6-7 minutes to spare, but I could feel the wear of three days and three nights with little sleep or recovery time building on me. I began to wonder how Jennifer was faring, she wasn’t showing any signs of weakness at this point. In a way I had hoped she would hit 300 which was a big goal of her’s for a long time, and then her mind and body would just say, “We did it! Time to relax!” But that didn’t seem to be the case. It seemed like we would continue on through a fourth day at that point. That thought excited and scared me. It meant the American record would be well within reach. It also meant one more day until the race ended and I could go home to see my kids. I was starting to miss them and was tired of the struggle of the race. I quietly told Marty this between laps 73 and 74. It was the first time during the race I actually envisioned myself quitting. Thankfully, Marty said the right thing when I said I was ready to go home and see my kids. He asked if I was still with my wife and if she was with the kids. I said yes and he responded by saying just be thankful she’s still around and caring for the kids. We had a bit of an emotional moment, maybe just a few seconds, but it was enough to get me teary eyed. He was right. The kids are in good hands and I needed to just focus on one more yard.


As it turned out, it wouldn’t be much longer until I didn’t have to focus on the race anymore. Jennifer came in from lap 74 with only a few minutes to spare. She didn’t go into her aid tent as she had between every other loop. Her crew had placed her chair outside her tent right at the edge of the corral. My aid tent was right next to Jennifer’s so I could get an idea of how she was doing. This was the first time I had any indication that she was struggling. As it seemed she rushed to get some calories in and prep to head back out, my crew joked with me while I enjoyed some avocado toast with bacon. The song “Get Up, Stand Up” was playing and my crew joked about what an appropriate song it was for the situation. I found it pretty hilarious at the time and started cracking up. It was at that moment that I felt like the race had finally shifted in my direction and could be nearing the end. I made a comment to Marty just before getting up that I thought Jennifer might be starting a death spiral based on how close she cut the last lap and that she moved her set up outside her tent to the edge of the corral. He didn’t confirm if he agreed or not, but just said to focus on my yard.

During the 75th yard I went out ahead as I had been for the day laps and realized Jennifer’s pace had slowed a bit more on this yard. There is a short, maybe quarter mile out and back at about the halfway point of the trail course. After I completed the out and back I passed the trail that leads you to it and caught my first and only sight of Jennifer during that yard. She was climbing the small hill before you exit the woods to run the out and back. She looked like she was struggling, her shoulders a bit slumped. I didn’t see the fight in her that I was so accustomed to. For the last two miles of that yard, I eased off my pace a bit thinking that it could very well be my final yard. Of course I knew that Jennifer had the wherewithal to keep going indefinitely even with only a minute or two between yards (she did that for hours last year), so I didn’t get too comfortable or start celebrating. But something I saw in how she was climbing that hill made me think that her race was coming to an end.

When I got back from yard 75 my crew did exactly what they were supposed to, they got me ready to go out for number 76. There was no celebration or even talk of the race being over. The closest thing to it was when Marty told me he saw Jennifer’s time when she crossed the mid yard timing mat and that it was going to be close. He immediately followed it up with, “you get ready to run another, because she can still make it in!” We went through our normal interloopal process and waited. The 3 minute whistle blew and no sign of Jennifer. The crowd was looking for her to see if she exited the woods yet. I got no indication of whether she was within sight or not. I stayed in my chair. The 2 minute whistle blew. Still no indication of any sign of her. I took the complete lack of reaction from the crowd there that they had not spotted her. With less than two minutes, she should have been within sight of the finish if she was going to have a chance to make it. The 1 minute whistle blew. No reaction from the crowd, just a lot of peering at the landscape in the distance. I stood up and moved into the starting corral pretty sure I was less than a minute away from a win. The last minute seemed to move slowly, but the clock eventually ran out and Jennifer had timed out on yard 75.


Although the clock ran out on Jennifer’s 75th yard, she had still achieved something extremely impressive, a new female backyard world record. The previous record of 68 yards had been held by none other than Courtney Dauwalter since the 2020 Big’s Backyard. Rather than celebrate at the finish line, Race Director Sarah Smith and I walked back on the course to find Jennifer and congratulate her. She was about a half mile from the finish when we reached her. We hugged and I told her how impressive the run she had put together was and how much I love how much fight she has in her to never quit even when it gets ridiculously tough after 50, 60, or 70 some hours.

beast coast trail running scott snell and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder embrace at finish of capital Backyard 2023

For me, I hit all of my goals and then some this year at Capital. The biggest being that I survived the third night which went relatively smoothly. I also learned a few new fuel options that worked well for me and some pain treatment methods thanks to my Crew Leader Marty. The icing on the cake, a consecutive overall win. That was a big goal to shoot for this year as I knew how deep the field was. I believed it was possible, if not it likely wouldn’t have happened, but I knew I’d have to have a REALLY good race for it to happen. Thankfully it happened and what a great confidence booster to build on leading to Big’s this year. With this performance, I know that as long as I stay healthy, I am capable of a much better day at Big’s this year than I had last year. And that is exciting because I’ll have the opportunity to run and compete with the best backyard runners in the world this October to see how I stack up against them on a common course. The thought of it scares me as I know the most likely outcome is a DNF, but even so, I know I have the potential to hang on into the final handful of runners and I believe there is at least a possibility that I could outlast the rest of the field there. I’ll never know what’s possible for me at Big’s unless I show up healthy and give it my all.

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra jennifer russo
Jennifer Russo, Race Director Sarah Smith, and Scott Snell at the end of Capital Backyard Ultra 2023!

I would be completely remiss if I did not thank a whole slew of people who made my amazing experience at Capital so amazing.

Of course Sarah Smith, Race Director of Capital Backyard Ultra, must be thanked. The race was created by her, is organized by her, and is a very special event thanks to her attention to detail and personal touch on all aspects of the race. Also, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the many race volunteers that sacrifice their time and energy to allow us runners to enjoy the race. An extra special and huge thank you to the chefs who provide what I can honestly say without the risk of exaggerating the best aid station food I have ever had at a race. Without an extensive crew of selfless volunteers these races just could not happen.

Additionally, I need to thank Jennifer Russo and the many other runners that ran Capital this year. Without their comradery and her assist, I would not have continued to run as long as I did. I personally really appreciated and liked how Sarah Smith described the finish in a Facebook post.


A more personal thank you goes to the crew that adopted me this year: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, and Jaron Holmes. Marty and Derek are a father and son duo that ran the race this year. Jaron is a buddy of Derek’s and was crewing for him for this race. I had met Marty a few times at previous races and was chatting with him during the race aid set up time on Friday afternoon. He was planning on sticking around after his race ended to volunteer and help out other runners. I asked if he’d be willing to crew for me after he had a chance to rest. I am so grateful he agreed. Marty ran a PR of 20 yards (83.33 miles). Derek ran 33 yards (137.5 miles) being crewed by Jaron. After their efforts and only getting a little rest, all three jumped in to crew me for the remainder of my race. And they were a rockstar crew! I like to think of myself as a pretty self sufficient and independent runner, and I did go the first day and night without a crew, but I never would have lasted as long as I did without their help. I definitely owe those guys for making this run a very special achievement.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
Left to right: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, Scott Snell, and Jaron Holmes -
my rock star crew!

The most personal thank you goes to my wife, Amanda. Ultrarunning certainly seems like a pretty selfish hobby at times. My wife takes on a lot to allow me to get in training runs and then disappear for long weekends to run these races. She keeps the house from burning down while corralling our four boys whose ages range from 11 years to 2 months old. I honestly don’t know how she does it but she does and she still doesn’t seem to hate me when I get home. Without her support, what I now consider my biggest running achievement would not have happened. I love you! Thank you!

 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Scott Snell
8 June 2023



Thursday, March 16, 2023

February Monthly Mileage Check In




Happy #MonthlyMileage check in! I wrapped up February with a little over 239 miles! February was about increasing the solid base I started building in January and maintaining consistency without abandoning non running aspects of my life. With a baby boy due to arrive this month to join our family of five, the non running aspects of my life are obviously pretty demanding. Add in an unexpected bout of kidney stones leading to a trip to the ER that my wife had to endure while about eight months pregnant, and it’s easy to see how my training could have fallen pretty far off track. Thankfully it didn’t and I was able to meet my mileage goals and still have a few days at the end of the month dedicated to a ski trip with my older boys, or we can call it cross training if preferred.

My average daily mileage increased from 8.30 in January to 8.55 miles per day in February. Only a 3% increase in average daily mileage, but I am thrilled with it given the circumstances over the past month. I am especially happy with my mileage and where I’m at right now this early in the year with my training because it already exceeds where I was last year in preparation to run Capital Backyard. Last April leading up to Capital, I averaged 8.37 miles per day. This year, a full two months out from Capital, I’ve already surpassed where my training was last year. This gives me some high hopes and big expectations for how my days go at Capital this year.

But before I start focusing on Capital, my more imminent goal is to better my performance and the course record at the Adventure Trail Run 24 Hour race. Given my training thus far this year and my current fitness level, I am more confident in reaching my goal of bettering the course record there than I was when I attempted to do the same two years ago. I believe it is mainly due to the focus I had on consistent training and building volume last year. I had a decent endurance foundation prior to last year, but my training was still primarily structured around long training runs. I got away from those last year and refocused on consistency to build volume. That meant less recovery days for me and an overall increase in volume. I tested out the “brick by brick” training ideology and would say based on my results so far I am a subscriber. I feel like the long training run loses training value as you progress as an ultrarunner. They’re great for testing fueling options and improving mental toughness but after a few years of ultrarunning you tend to get fueling that works for you figured out and mental toughness develops and is refined over time. Therefore, my long runs are pretty much reserved for races, at least for the time being. We’ll see how that training regimen works for the 24 hour race format, but it has served me well in the backyard format so I intend to continue using it.




Scott Snell
16 March 2023












Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Healthy Mix of Joy and Fear


Scott Snell beast Coast Trail Running

Big's Backyard was the first race to break me. Although it didn’t do it single handedly; it had a pretty helpful assist from the cold I came down with about a week before the race. It was a culmination of events and circumstances that led to me succumbing and ending my race shortly after beginning the third night of running. Immediately and for several weeks after I wasn’t sure I would go back or if I even wanted to, but now I’m certain. I hope to be back at Big's this fall, better prepared mentally and physically. And hopefully in better health as well. When I think about going back I’m filled with a healthy mix of joy and fear.

The phrase “healthy mix of joy and fear” was one that I spouted off on a whim recently. One of the scout leaders from my oldest son’s den was congratulating me as my wife and I are expecting a new baby boy soon. Maybe I didn’t gush with as much excitement as I should have and he said to me a bit sarcastically about how thrilled I look. I replied with, “yeah, I’m excited. It’s a healthy mix of joy and fear.” Later I realized that is exactly how I feel about going back to Big’s as well.

I believe the joy stems from the opportunity to have a second crack at Big’s to do better; second chances are never guaranteed so I am grateful for the opportunity. Last year I was so dead set and focused on Big’s that I feel like I built it up to be more than it actually was, like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and no one ever goes back for a second attempt. Not that I all of a sudden don’t think that running at Big’s isn’t a big deal. It’s just that now I recognize that it was not a one time shot, that I may have several years of running Big’s with the national team format and in the strictly individual world competition format. In a way, it seems that strictly focusing on Big’s last year took away from the joy of the experience and made it feel like an impossible task. With what I hope to be my second chance at Big’s this year, I not only want to have a better performance but also want to enjoy the process.

The fear emanates from having experienced Big’s and having been broken by the backyard race format. Like I said earlier, I don’t think the race format alone broke me but it was the cumulative effect of the cold I was battling unrelated to the exhaustion and sleep deprivation which were directly induced by the race format. Top all of that with a severe drop in temperature and some strong gusting winds going into the third night and I was done. I’ve now experienced how quickly things can go from bad to worse and over so quickly in this race format and that is scary. It’s so scary because like second chances, there are no guarantees in the backyard format. Any runner, no matter how talented and resilient, can have a bad hour and sometimes that’s all it takes to end your race in the backyard. That is why I have a great deal of respect for the format; because it can humble anyone with little to no notice. I look forward to facing that specific fear that wasn’t there last year when I ran Big’s. I’ll still go into the race with high expectations for myself as I feel confidence is a key to success in backyards but this time with a bit more fear and respect for how quickly a race can fall apart and be over.


Scott Snell
15 March 2023






Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022 Goals Reviewed and Examining 2023 Goals


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

My singular goal for 2022, well it actually began to form midway through 2021, was to earn a place on the 15 person Team USA for the international Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. I accomplished this goal in May by winning Capital Backyard Ultra which was a silver ticket event guaranteeing me a place on the team. With my main goal for the year accomplished only a few months into the year, I put all my effort into training to achieve my best possible performance at that competition. In retrospect, maybe that was a mistake putting all of my eggs into one basket. As luck would have it, my son got sick with a bad cough/cold about two weeks before the race and then I picked it up about a week before the race. While I still had a decent performance there (62 yards or about 258 miles), it was not the performance I hoped for and I was just angry the majority of the time for the timing of the virus I contracted. Which I guess is a major downside of focusing all of your effort preparing for such a long period on a single race. All it takes is one poorly timed sickness to destroy your hopes. So, I have decided not to do that again. I will do almost the exact opposite this year and just send it, running all the races I want to run. Which is probably equally bad for different reasons.

Overall, this year I just want to run the races I want to run and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I'll burn out and be sick of ultrarunning (not likely) before October and the big dance at Big's. But I don’t think I will. The more likely flaw to this plan is either an overuse injury or insufficient recovery time between races to achieve optimal performance. But I don’t care. I’d rather run that risk and have a few races that I’m really proud of, a few that I deem mediocre, and a few that were total misses rather than have one race that I put so much time and effort into feel like a failure. So with that introduction and philosophy behind my running goals for 2023, here they are (in chronological order)!

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

1.  Set a new 24 hour PR for myself and a new course record at the 24 hr Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA. - I made my first attempt at this goal and my first attempt at a 24 hour race in 2021. It was my first race after races had been shut down due to COVID. I believe I am better prepared to achieve this goal this time around. I know what mistakes I made during my first attempt and how I can remedy them. I also believe I am better prepared physically and mentally this time. My fitness level has improved and my mind is better adapted to overcome temporary setbacks within a 24 hour period. I was so close to achieving this goal last time that I am almost certain I will have success this time.

2.  Run Capital Backyard Ultra and be sure to secure my spot at Big's this year. - With the qualifying period for the 2023 Backyard World individual Championships ending in mid August, Capital Backyard Ultra (at the end of May) is one of the final more competitive backyard races likely to produce an at large qualification. Right now I'm sitting at the 56th spot out of 75 spots available. Chances are pretty good that where I'm at is good enough and I will qualify regardless of whether I run another backyard between now and then. However, there are some competitive backyard races between now and then. If I'm pushed farther down the qualifying list, it's most likely I'll be pushed off the list due to at large qualifications at Capital. If that does occur, I want to be in the race to compete for my spot at Big's.

3.  Run a 12 hour race at the Midnight Squatchapalooza. - I've never run a 12 hour race before and this is one of the most local ultras for me. It's also hosted by one of my favorite NJ race directors, Kim Levinsky of Sassquad Trail Running. My personal goal for this race is to run at least a 100k before the 12 hour clock runs out. From what I can tell based on the Ultrasignup results page, it looks like the course record is 25 laps of a 2.5 mile looped course or 62.5 miles which is just over a 100k distance. So, if I hit my personal goal I will at least tie the course record. Of course, if things are going well for me late in the race and it is within reach, I’d love to be able to better the course record and complete 26 laps to hit 65 miles.

4.  Run Backyard Squatch again. - I have multiple reasons for this goal and several achievements I’d like to reach within this goal. This race is also hosted by Sassquad Trail Running, so that alone makes me want to run it again. After running and winning it in 2021, I was invited back by Kim Levinsky to run it again in 2022 but I felt like it was a little too close and would disrupt my training cycle leading up to the Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. Although I wanted to run it again last year, I opted not to, hoping it would better my performance at Big’s. That is not the plan this year. Like I mentioned earlier, the plan is just to send it this year and hope for the best. With that mindset, my goals for this race are to better the course record (36 yards) that still stands from the inaugural year (2021). Additionally, I intend to be the last person standing there.

5.  Run a 200 mile race. - After spending the better part of the last two years making earning a spot to run at Big’s Backyard my primary focus, I’m trying to freshen things up a bit this year with some new exciting goals, hence the completely new goal of running a 12 hour race. While running a 200 mile race isn’t a completely new or fresh idea for me to pursue, this year I plan on acting on it. In the past I had kinda dreamt about running a 200 miler. I had always thought I’d sign up for one out west, most likely one of Candice Burt’s races but a few things kept me from acting on those dreams. The first being the cost. When you add up the registration and travel costs you’re looking at a minimum of a several thousand dollar price tag for an adventure that will most likely be a handful of days. I have trouble justifying that with my current household budget. The second primary reason was the fear that I wasn’t ready to tackle the 200 mile distance. Well, after running two backyards last year that went over 250 miles the fear of not being ready for the 200 mile distance is gone. However, the financial limitation is still there so I have been looking at other, more affordable options. As of now, the race I think I will register for to take a crack at the 200 mile distance is the Cowboy 200. Since I’ve already run two races greater than 200 miles, some may justifiably be questioning why I’m pursuing this as a goal this year. The reason is that although I’ve done the distance, I’ve never raced the distance. I’ve only run it in the backyard format where your pace is constrained to not exceed 100 miles per 24 hours. So the real goal within this goal is not to finish a 200 mile race, but to finish it in under 48 hours. Giddy up!

6.  Run the individual backyard world championship at Big's Backyard in October. - If you read my race report on my performance at the 2022 Big’s Backyard team competition, I think it’s readily apparent that I feel like I have some unfinished business there. I intend to be there again this year for the individual competition and do better. It would be na├»ve and maybe a bit foolish to make winning this competition my only goal. Of course it’s the top goal, but these are the best backyard runners from around the world competing here. It is the most competitive backyard competition in the world. Do I believe there is a chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not. Can I do better than last year? Most definitely yes. Outside of being the outright winner, I have a few other objectives that are more likely obtainable. The first being just to improve upon last year’s performance of 62 yards. Simple and definitely doable. Second is to make it through that third night of running and see how long I can hang after that. That will be more difficult, but I believe I am capable of it. My third alt objective and likely the most difficult if I am not the last person standing there is to simply not allow my race to end in apathy again. An apathetic outlook was the final piece that ended my run there last year. I don’t like excuses. Allowing apathy to take hold over the last few hours of my race last year feels like creating an excuse to quit in the moment. If not an excuse, then a defense or escape mechanism at best. It’s not fair to use either after putting so much time, effort, and sacrifice into preparing for this event. It’s not fair to me or others close to me who have also made sacrifices to allow me to not only be there, but to prepare to do the best I can while I am there. So that’s the final alt objective: to do my best with no excuses.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running



Scott Snell
11 January 2023









Thursday, November 3, 2022

Mental Recovery From Big's Backyard


I hit a total of 369 miles for October with 258 run in a single go at Big's Backyard. I'm pretty sure this was my highest monthly mileage ever and I am completely sure that my run at Big's was a distance PR for me. For all of that I admit that I am proud and maybe I shouldn't say it at all but I'm going to anyway. I can't help but be disappointed in myself with how my run at Big's went. It certainly felt like giving up towards the end. And I hate that. What could I have done differently? Mistakes were made. I didn't change from shorts to pants soon enough to deal with the drop in temperature. I didn't stay positive. I lost hope. I didn't use my last resort lifeline that I have the previous two times I was ready to quit at a backyard: to call my wife and say "I'm done." Maybe I didn't have time. Maybe I didn't want the pressure to keep going. I'm still not sure and I may never know exactly where my head was at that point. What I do know is that it's on me for making those mistakes. There's no one else to blame. I take full responsibility. I also know that I'm not happy or impressed with what I did and it's impacting what I had planned for 2023. My primary running goal for 2023 was to make an attempt at the IA crossing FKT. Now I don't know; a "redemption" backyard run sounds pretty attractive. We'll see... Regardless, my plan was to take some time to recover and focus on family time from November and over the holidays until I start training again for a specific goal next year. What that specific goal is, I don't know at this point. I still need to accept what I interpret as a failure. But I am determined to find the good in this situation, to learn from my mistakes and use it as motivation to drive and to train harder towards whatever my next goal is. 


Scott Snell

3 November 2022 




Wednesday, October 26, 2022

2022 Big's Backyard Team World Championships


Team USA - 2022 Backyard World Champions

Not All DNFs Are Equivalent


  beast coast trail running scott snell big's backyard 2022 team usa world champions coin

The rules of the backyard race format are simple. There can be only one winner. The winner is the person that successfully completes one more 4.1667 mile loop than any other runner in the race. To remain in the race each runner must complete that loop within a one hour time limit every hour beginning on the hour. If a runner fails to complete the lap within the time limit or to be in the starting corral at the start of the next hour’s lap, they are out of the race and recorded as a DNF (Did Not Finish). It is a race format based on attrition with the sole remaining runner being the victor. When a team aspect is incorporated into the format, the sole focus of an individual athlete’s success is no longer centered only on him or herself. It also depends on the success of their teamates. That is what happened in 2020 when international athletes could not travel (due to covid travel restrictions) to Bell Buckle, TN where the Backyard World Championship race is held every year in October. To continue the annual international competition, the race format adapted to a team competition with teams of 15 runners representing their home country in their homeland negating the need for international travel. Teams would run an equal distance course on their “home court” following the same backyard rules with the addition of a simple team scoring system where one point (or yard) is scored for every team member that completes a lap within the one hour time limit. The team with the most points is crowned the champion team that year. Incorporating team camaraderie and representing one’s home country as a group were just a couple aspects that made the revamped team format of the race a worldwide success in 2020. So much so, that it was incorporated as a biannual event being held on even years while the individual world championships would be held on odd years. This report is the story of how I earned a spot on the 2022 USA Backyard World Championship Team and my race in Bell Buckle, TN.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

To make a long story short of how I earned a spot on the US team, I won a bronze ticket race (Backyard Squatch) in August 2021 which earned me a spot at a silver ticket race (Capital Backyard Ultra). Winning Capital Backyard Utra guaranteed a spot for me on Team USA. Earning a spot on a national team to represent my country in an international competition felt like a pretty big deal to me. It also felt like a good deal of pressure to perform well. I hoped to have one of those ideal days when everything just clicks and it feels like the energy flow is infinite. I wanted to have the performance of my life, not just for the sake of the team, but to achieve a performance that I could look back at and say “wow, that was it! That’s one that is going to be hard to ever top!” But, in ultrarunning, as in life, things don’t always go as we hope or plan.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My training mileage leading to Big's Backyard.

Training went splendidly. I followed the same basic plan as I did for the build up for Capital Backyard Ultra with the only major difference being an increase in volume of mileage. I had less hiccups, speed bumps, and interruptions to the training preparing for Big’s than I did for Capital. I had serendipitously met a local runner at Capital (Dagmar - thank you!) that volunteered to crew for me at Big’s. By the numbers (larger volume training) and other factors (crewed versus uncrewed) leading into Big’s, I expected to have a better day there than at Capital. Which is likely a major reason why I come away from the experience feeling so disappointed with a performance that was about on par with what I did at Capital. Of course I can make excuses, which I hate, but there has to be some explanation why things happen how they happen. The best explanation I have, least sounding like a bs excuse, began about two weeks before Big’s when my youngest son came down with a cold (not covid, we tested). The cold made its way through our whole household and I definitely had a remnant cough and some sinus congestion en route to Tennessee for the race. Finding yourself in the cough and cold aisle of a CVS to get cough drops and restock with zinc tablets is obviously not the ideal situation two days out from a multi day race where you’re hoping for the performance of your life, but that’s the situation I found myself in. That’s the hand I was dealt, and I chose to play it.
 

After a couple days of travel, we arrived at Big’s backyard Friday afternoon before the start of the race the following morning. Big is the name of the Race Director’s dog and the trail course is in his backyard, hence the race name “Big’s Backyard”. We got our tent and most of our gear set up and situated with a few hours of daylight left so we decided to hike the trail course. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this course was going to be far more challenging than the Capital trail course. The trail is nearly all pretty technical single track with plenty of roots and rocks to catch your toes on. With tired legs, this is an ever present danger. Add in the elevation change (about 470 feet of gain per loop whereas the Capital trail course had somewhere between 300-350 feet of gain per loop) and you’ve got yourself quite a challenging backyard course.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 1 - October 15 AM

The race started with the trail loop at 7 am. This particular race location requires runners to complete 11 day loops (7 am - 5 pm) before switching to the night road course beginning at 6 pm for 13 night laps. That is one of the quirks of the backyard team format international competition; each team is on a unique course in their homeland with varying lengths of daylight hours. Some have more day course laps than night course laps and some vice versa. Some have more runnable courses with less elevation change. It's not an even playing field, however, what plays to the strengths of some runners is a weakness of others. It’s a bit of a luck of the draw as to how your running strengths align with your country’s home course.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions tent
This was home for the duration of the race.

A few minutes before the start of the first yard, Laz (the Race Director) called all of the runners out for a pre race briefing going over all of the rules and reminding us he would make no exceptions in enforcing them even if it would be severely detrimental to our team effort. That is the essence of backyard racing: the rules are simple and must be strictly enforced. Shortly after, Laz was ringing the cowbell that would signal the start of every yard on the hour, every hour until there were no runners left in our competition. As he rang the bell, Laz shouted “Happy Times!” with what seemed to be a mix of emotions covering the ranges of excitement, joy, and anticipation of how the race would play out and what all of us runners would achieve.

The trail course of Big’s is actually only a little over 3 miles so to get the required 4.1667 mile distance it begins with a short out and back on the road course. It was during this initial road out and back that Harvey Lewis (a very accomplished ultrarunner and a bit of a personal running idol to me) called in our team for a little team building and strategy talk. It was real now! I was on Team USA with Harvey Lewis!

The trail course was a bit challenging on the first day, but having hiked it the evening before it wasn’t a surprise for which I was grateful. I’d much rather be aware of the challenges stacked against me rather than be surprised by them. The miles and yards rolled by smoothly while I took in calories between and during laps with no issues. The goal of day one here was the same as the goal of day 1 at any backyard: stay steady, be patient, and cause as little stress to the mind and body as possible.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 1 - October 15 PM

The overnight portion of any long distance race always presents a set of challenges not faced during the daylight hours. The sun sets and darkness sets in and head lamps are lit. Your body’s circadian rhythm reminds you that this is when you should be preparing to rest after a long day outdoors, but that’s not an option in the backyard. I feel like the need for rest is more intense or at least more apparent during a backyard race than a standard point to point race. During a standard race the goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Depending on the timing of the race and daylight hours, point B could be reached before the sun rises. Having a finish line to target is a huge mental motivator to push hard and continue onward. The physical output intensity of a standard race is greater than a backyard. During a standard race you’re pushing your body harder to edge that line of moving as quickly as possible without breaking, whereas in a backyard the goal is to restrain the body from even approaching over exertion, keeping the pace as calm and relaxed as possible while still allowing a few minutes between laps to not feel too rushed. The backyard allows the mind to realize that the body is tired and in need of sleep while also holding the body in a state more ready for sleep with a lower heart rate than standard races. Maybe not during the first night, but it can be a recipe for disaster as the race continues.

The first night of most backyards probably produces a greater loss of runners than any other portion of the race. But this backyard was not a standard backyard, this was the International Backyard Team competition and although one team member (Brady Winkles) developed a knee injury overnight, our team had no drops during the first night.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

My night was uneventful other than battling some standard drowsiness. I attempted short naps between laps more frequently than I had at any other backyard since I had crew support at this race, but honestly I’m not sure if I ever actually slept. I made what I believe may have been a mistake towards the end of the night. I attempted to run a fast lap (37:55) in hopes that I could manage to get a bit of a longer nap, but the faster pace raised my heart rate too much and I mostly just spent that interloopal period lying on my cot with my eyes closed waiting for my heart rate to recover. I believe the negative mental impact of that failed strategy was far greater than the physical. It was the same strategy I used during the second night at Capital and it worked perfectly there as I got a solid 10 minute nap and felt refreshed before the sun rose for the third day. As the race continued, I would find many things that went right at Capital would present greater challenges at Big’s.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 2 - October 16 AM

Although our team would make it through night one with no losses, Brady would have to tap out early during day two due to his knee injury. He would complete 25 yards before timing out on his 26th.

The second day of trails felt like more of a struggle for me and required more effort than the first day, but that is to be expected when you have over 100 miles on your legs. The elevation change was definitely having an impact on me as most of my training is on extremely flat terrain in south Jersey. By midday my quads were letting me know just how unprepared they were for all of the climbing and descending on the trails. As the day laps wore on, I found myself falling in line with a group of teammates right behind Harvey Lewis. I did my best to just turn my brain off and just focus on his feet as I ran behind him. Sometimes the best thing to do during a long ultra is turn off the mind and just follow the footsteps in front of you. It helped get me through some challenging laps during that second day.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

At one point when I was hurting pretty bad physically and feeling extremely sleep deprived and drowsy I asked Harvey in a pretty general way, “what do you do when it starts to hurt really bad?” I think he responded with a few questions asking what hurt and how it hurt. I answered that it was mainly my quads just feeling spent. He came back with some tips and possible solutions to improve the situation: stretching between laps, making sure I’m taking in enough electrolytes and fluids, and more generally to think of someone important to you while you’re running through the pain. The advice helped me get through some low points during that day as our team approached a second night of running. It would also be one of the highlights of my experience of running Big’s. Just little old Scott out running trails and getting advice from one of the best backyard runners in the world.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 2 - October 16 PM

The switch back to the road course was a welcome change after the second day of trail running. It rained intermittently during the second day making the trails a bit muddy and the rocks slick. Sure footed, mindless running of the road was a relief after a day of concentrating on uncertain footing on the trails all day. Sleep deprivation is obviously intensified during the second night after the sun sets. This is when the field really dwindles to a few serious runners with their eye on the ultimate prize during a normal backyard, but again, this was not a normal backyard. All but two (Kevin McCabe who was suffering from nausea and vomiting for 8-10 hours before ending his run with 38 yards and Justin Wright who was battling an injury sustained on the trail during the day would fight on to complete 44 yards) of our 14 remaining team members would survive the cutoffs the entire second night. It’s not to say there weren’t struggles, myself included. I found myself chatting with teammates more during the second night than the first. It was in part to encourage them when it seemed they were struggling and as a means to keep myself awake and as alert as possible.

At one point while I was bobbing and weaving while walking (possibly sleepwalking) a headlamp came up beside me. It was Cody Eubanks who I hadn’t chatted with much earlier in the race as his pace was typically a few minutes faster than mine. He pulled up and invited me to run with him so we could keep each other awake and on the road as we struggled through the wee hours of the morning. I had been turning my headlamp off for portions of the road laps overnight hoping that it would help me to fall asleep faster between laps. The trade off is that I felt even sleepier while running in the darkness. With Cody’s headlamp next to me I woke up a bit and turned mine on as well. The dual headlamps help stave off some of the drowsiness that night. The conversation with Cody helped chase off all remaining drowsiness for a few stretches of that second night as we ran the next few laps together. We chatted about coffee at one point and that’s when I realized I had a package of chocolate covered espresso beans I had not even opened yet. I became irrationally excited about them at that moment. I invited Cody to stop at my tent during the next interloopal period and join me for some espresso beans. In retrospect, that espresso bean party at my tent kinda felt like closing down the bar and inviting all your drunk friends back to your house. Then all of your sober roommates (in this case your crew, sorry for the unexpected extra runner you helped take care of at that point, Dagmar) see you arrive and are just saying “WTF” to themselves.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 3 October 17 AM

Towards the end of the second night, I began losing hope that my legs would be able to complete the trail loop within the time limit. I voiced this to teammates and crew and got encouragement all around. I was committed to giving it a go. I didn’t want my race to end by choosing to not go out for a lap. I wanted to keep going until I timed out. Thankfully, after the first trail lap, it felt like my legs got a little spring back in their step and I felt more confident I could complete the trail loops on that third day without timing out. The shift back to trails was not as forgiving for all of our team. We lost both Cody and Jennifer Russo on the first trail lap. Jennifer barely missed the cutoff and was maybe 15-20 seconds away from completing her lap when the bell rang. Cody was a bit farther back and our team congratulated him on a race well run as we passed him making his way back on the trail. With their losses, our team was down 6 runners and 9 runners continued on into day 3.

After many hours and several days of hearing Laz howl “Happy Times!” at the start of every yard, it began to sound more like a purely sadistic yell to me than anything else. The excitement and joy was gone; now it was just hurting. I did my best to fight on through it and stay positive, but it was getting really tough. Food wasn’t attractive anymore. My mouth had begun to break out and felt like I had mini canker sores covering the insides of my lips. I was experiencing heartburn like I never had during a race before and all the Tums I ate didn’t seem to help but for a brief portion of each lap. I was losing the mental battle and I knew it. The sleep deprivation intensified. I attempted to chat with teammates, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually saying anything out loud or just thinking of saying it in my head. Making it back from the loops with about 5 minutes to spare began to feel like a challenge. I told myself just to hang on and the night loops should get easier. If I could just survive the day trail loops. My cold congestion started bothering me more and more during day 3. I found myself taking running breaks to move to the side of the trail to hack up phlegm from my sinuses. We lost Levi Yoder and Jason Bigonia after laps 52 and 54 respectively, reducing our team to 7 runners by mid day. During a standard backyard, losing a runner is motivating in a sense as it puts you one position closer to being the sole survivor of the race. But with the team format, it is more of a punch to the gut as you just lost another teammate.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 3 October 17 PM

We entered our third night with 59 yards completed, about 245.8 miles. My personal backyard record is 61 yards. Surpassing that was a personal goal for me going into this race. It was well within reach at this point, but I was fighting a complete lack of motivation to continue and an onslaught of apathy about the race in general. I believe I had lost the mental battle at this point. I actually just wanted to quit and not go back out for another yard although I knew I would regret it. Dagmar was able to reason with my unreasonable attitude enough to get me to commit to at least getting a new PR of 62 yards. Those last two laps were ugly. It was a lot of walking and feeling sorry for myself. Then reminding myself that I had to pick up the pace to make it in and get that PR. I came back from my 62nd lap torn. I had bettered my PR and now I could quit and be happy and proud. But that’s not the case for me with the backyard. I knew I couldn’t refuse to go back out without feeling like a total piece of garbage. Thankfully another runner’s crew member had found out I was planning to drop out and wasn’t going to allow it. He made me lay down for the few minutes I had between laps, threw a pair of running pants on me (temperature had dropped when the sun went down that night), put a water bottle in my hand and pushed me into the corral to go back out for another yard. Dying in the chair is unacceptable in my backyard ethos. If your race is going to end, at least go out fighting and let it end by timing out on a lap.
 

And that is how my race ended on the 63rd yard. I started out, legs feeling stiffer than ever before. I pushed them to run. It hurt, but they began to pick up the pace. Then I was unexpectedly walking again. I repeated the cycle until I hit the half mile mark at 8 minutes. That made me worried. I would have to increase my pace to make it back in time. The cycle of walking and mentally pushing my legs to run continued until I hit the 1 mile mark at a little over 20 minutes. Then I realized my pace had slowed even more even with my attempt to pick it up. And I realized I would not complete that lap within the cut off. I stood still for a few moments looking at the night sky, then the ground, wondering if I could hammer out a 10 minute mile uphill to give myself a chance of making it back in time. I even made the attempt to run a bit more, but my legs wouldn’t have it. They refused to pick up the pace and I didn’t have the mental capacity to convince or force them to move. With that, I knew my race was over and I began my cold, sad walk back on the dark road.

I couldn’t quite explain at the time what went wrong and I’m still not completely sure. Was it the shock of the cold weather that third night, the sleep deprivation, the lack of stretching, calorie depletion, the phlegm I was hacking up and sinus congestion I was battling, just physical exhaustion, or most likely a combination of all of the above. Lack of sleep and physical/mental exhaustion will take your mind to some strange places, and I went there over the course of my time at Big’s. I had some big personal goals and high hopes going into Big’s, and I failed on several accounts. I wanted to run through a third night and break 300 miles, both of which I failed to achieve. I bettered my PR, but only by one yard. I truly believe that failure is an opportunity for growth and improvement and I hope to embrace my failure at Big’s to improve my future backyard performances.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My performance was good enough for 24th in the world out of 555 athletes.

With my race over, I was chauffeured to a hotel where I showered and slept for a few hours in a real bed. I felt a bit more human again the next morning and we returned to the race to clean up our tent and gear just after the two remaining runners had headed out on what would be their final lap. Harvey Lewis and Piotr Chadovich both went out for a 76th yard, but only Piotr would successfully complete it making him the Team USA Champion with 316.67 miles. I was so happy to be back and alert to witness the finish of our team’s race and congratulate both Harvey and Piotr on their amazing performances. With our team’s race over and a healthy lead in the team competition, it looked like we would have the team win, but with several other country’s teams continuing to accumulate points it was too early to celebrate. We took some team photos and chatted a bit about all of the challenges we all endured over the last 3 days or so. We had all suffered together for a common goal: to accumulate more yards than any other team in the world. Some of us faced more challenges earlier on than others. Some of us overcame and bounced back, some of us succumbed to those challenges. But through it all, we worked as a team encouraging one another to push on. Our crews assisted one another sharing resources such as foods, beverages, pain relief supplies, and expertise such as taping and wrapping injuries. True team bonds were formed as a result of our shared hardships. Although it took about another 25 hours or so to be official, Team USA was declared the 2022 Backyard Team World Champions with 860 total yards over Belgium's 788 yard performance as second and Australia's 744 yard performance for third.
 

I am still so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete in this international competition as a part of Team USA! I hate to tarnish our team victory in any way by expressing any disappointment in my personal performance, but that feeling is there. I don’t have any running plans as of right now. I expect to run more backyards and maybe chase some FKTS. Right now I’m not sure where to focus my efforts next. I can say with complete certainty that I hope to improve as a backyard runner and I would love to represent my country as a member of Team USA again in 2024.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions


Scott Snell

26 October 2022